Lava Jato: “The Narrative Must Be Protected At All Costs”

It is simply the most important geopolitical story of recent times. Documents leaked to the Intercept have led to the exposure of ostensible anti-corruption Operation Lava Jato (Carwash) as a means to rig Brazil’s 2018 election, and worse still, which was carried out in conjunction with the United States Government.

And this is only the beginning, Lava Jato’s role in the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and in enabling the selloff of Brazil’s resources and strategic companies to US corporations are all now being intensely scrutinised, as we at Brasil Wire have been doing for the past five years.

In response, widespread efforts to minimise and control the story by corporate media platforms and personnel, who for those five years have enthusiastically cheerled the operation, and its key figures Sergio Moro and Deltan Dellagnol, is a story in itself.

At time of writing the most explosive revelation is Dellagnol’s reference to collaboration with “the Americans” over the pursuit of former President Lula, and apparent urgency to prosecute him before he could stand for election once again, and inevitably win. The revelations follow an attempt earlier this year by the U.S. Department of of Justice to grant a $682 million dollar kickback to Dallagnol and his team. Illegal collaboration between Brazilian prosecutors and the U.S. is something we have presented multi-faceted evidence for over the past years, and more will be revealed over the coming weeks and months.

Update: In February 2021, chat transcripts obtained by Lula’s defence team revealed Dallagnol mocking the former president’s arrest as a “gift from the CIA“. Months later the White House openly admitted CIA involvement in the “war on corruption” in Latin America, which Brasil Wire had exposed long before it brought Bolsonaro to power.

Lava Jato’s most vociferous supporters, in particular those embedded within the nebulous “anti-corruption” industry who didn’t leave themselves any room to manoeuvre, are now circling the wagons for a desperate last stand: The narrative must be protected at all costs.

Propaganda Campaign

Lava Jato didn’t “Lose its way”. It was always a political and geopolitical weapon. Since its official inception in 2014 after a ten year development and gestation, it has been furnished with a domestic and international propaganda campaign that is perhaps unprecedented outside wartime.

The world at large didn’t know it yet, but it seemed for five years that they really wanted to hear about a parade of grey suited, low level regional prosecutors and disgraced greying politicians, in a country they knew or cared little about beyond football and samba.

The questions remain: Who was running the international PR campaign for Operation Lava Jato? Who was paying for it?

Along with the gushing newspaper and magazine profiles of Sergio Moro, Deltan Dallagnol and their glorious operation, a movie and a two season Netflix drama ‘The Mechanism‘, “loosely based” on Lava Jato, were also part of its propaganda arsenal.

This video from the Jimmy Dore show, an ostensibly left-wing vehicle, is an extraordinary example of how pervasive the international propaganda campaign for Lava Jato was, and how implausible the power of its own narrative.

(For the worst of many cringeworthy moments, check out 2:02: “I want to get a Lava Jato T-Shirt”)

Serious doubts about the integrity Lava Jato were widespread in Brazil from its beginning in 2014, but here you had a representative of the U.S. left enthusiastically endorsing an operation which had already helped bring down one elected leftist President, and was about to prevent the election of another – the most successful left-wing President in modern history – both on the basis of spurious allegations from partisan right-wing team of prosecutors, who were working in illegal collaboration with the United States Government.

We do not accept ignorance as an excuse, as sufficient dissenting information was available both on this site and elsewhere throughout the coup, and relatively easy to find. We must ask why the available evidence, such as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Kenneth Blanco’s 2017 speech at NATO think tank the Atlantic Council, in which he boasted about the DoJ role in Lava Jato and the prosecution of Lula, was completely ignored until now.

What Lava Jato was to its supporters and protagonists was an essentialist myth, the next stage in Brazil’s development – corruption would be a thing of the past! they insisted – and the outside world (which only associated Brazil specifically with corruption in their own imaginations anyway) would know it!

What Lava Jato instead succeeded in doing is making the South American giant the nation most associated with systemic corruption, rather than one credited with a quantum leap in the fight against it. It reduced investor confidence in Brazil, the very opposite of what it was supposed to deliver.

Far beyond that, Operation Lava Jato has inflicted catastrophic damage on the country. Politically, economically, socially, and to its national sovereignty.

“Nixon laments Watergate incident”

On Sunday 9th June 2019, when the Intercept began releasing material from its vast trove of communications and documents sent to them by a whistleblower, corporate media platforms and key journalists working on Brazil went into panic, and damage limitation mode kicked in.

Not only did the revelations, of which these first three articles were only 1% of the material in the Intercept’s possession, jeopardise the credibility of Operation Lava Jato itself. It cast doubt on the legality of the 2018 Presidential election, and jeopardised the “War on corruption” – the lawfare strategy which has been deployed in collaboration with the United States across the whole of Latin America in order to manipulate its governance.

Immediate responses the following day looked like attempts to contain and minimise the story through weak headlines and misleading framing. What they also had in common was that they contained no rebuttal of the actual information leaked and its enormous ramifications.

Washington Post ran with a vague AP wire: “Brazil Justice minister laments hack of prosecutor’s phones”. On several levels this is preposterous. Firstly the justice minister himself was one of those implicated in the scandal. Secondly it focussed entirely on the alleged phone hacking rather than the information released which was of enormous constitutional implications from Brazil. New York Times initial response was similar thin gruel: “Leaked messages raise fairness questions in Brazil corruption inquiry”. Guardian went closer with “Brazil reels at claims judge who jailed Lula collaborated with prosecutors”, but what none of these conveyed was the entire point of the story, which was left to the english language services of non Anglo media: France 24 went with the accurate “Brazil’s Lula jailed to keep him from 2018 election: report”. See, NYT, Washington Post, Guardian? It isn’t really that difficult.

“You cannot trust the Guardian, New York Times or Washington Post on Brazil coverage, what a disgusting joke.” – Michael Brooks

The Guardian joined a notorious Lava Jato cheerleader, in insisting that Moro’s very collusion with Dallagnol was “the big story”. Perhaps the principal foreign advocate of Lava Jato, and personal friend of Sergio Moro, AS/COA’s Brian Winter, who left Reuters Brazil to join the Big Oil-funded Wall Street lobby following the “podemos tirar se achar melhor (we can take that out if you think its better)” scandal in which he was perceived as to be censoring former President’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s admission that the Petrolão corruption scheme at which Lava Jato was directed was already active during his government, before Lula and the Workers Party took power. This information of course contradicted the narrative being built which made the Workers Party and Petrobras corruption synonymous – a central pillar of the coup’s propaganda, and it was revealed only by accident in editors notes mistakenly left in Reuters copy.

Video from AS/COA’s PR campaign for the “War on corruption” in Latin America

Following the Intercept’s revelations, Winter predictably joined the Economist’s Latin America editor Michael Reed in insisting that “nothing in the leak proves Lula’s innocence”. This is problematic of course, as only 1% of the leak has been released. Secondly, call us old fashioned but it is the responsibility of prosecutors to prove guilt, as Deltan Dallagnol himself admitted in the leaked conversations, where he said that he was not confident they had sufficient evidence to convict Lula.

Some commentators have jumped headfirst into the Intercept’s leaks, almost as if they did not spend the past five years insisting the very opposite was true, but on the whole the same individuals who denied the coup was a coup, and insisted Lula’s prosecution was legitimate, are now scrambling to minimise the biggest geopolitical scandal in recent times. In addition, editors and bureau chiefs whose pro-Lava Jato track record leaves them totally exposed are diving enthusiastically into the story, whilst omitting key information.

This is all coalescing into a lockstep corporate media response, and a classic anti-leak strategy which we have all seen many times before: Make the story about the individual (the Hacker). Minimise the story by acknowledging only the least damaging, most frivolous and vague aspects, and expand those to fill the dimensions of the entire story. Cast doubt on validity of documents, and so on.

And who can blame them? If they were to acknowledge the true gravity of this story, up to and including proven U.S. collusion in Brazil’s long coup of 2013-2018, they look at best incompetent, credulous and foolish, at worst dishonest, and acting in bad faith. The world of spin they constructed, their entire narrative over the past six years would collapse before it can petrify into a form of permanent, fossilised propaganda.

Transparency International, the anti-corruption advocacy organisation which had collaborated with Lava Jato on campaigns, issued a statement which defended the discredited operation’s work and also focussed on the alleged hack, rather than the grave implications of the information released for Brazil’s democracy and institutional integrity. Transparency International’s funders include the U.S. State Department and U.K. Government, and in the past has been accused of bad faith in South America concerning its treatment of State-Controlled Oil Industries.

Back in Brazil, what developed over the week was also a focus on the individual responsible, “the Hacker” rather than the information itself. This was pushed by the all powerful Globo, who also attacked Glenn Greenwald, effectively alleging a form of blackmail rather than simply an offer to collaborate on the release, which they refused. The network’s angry response followed Greenwald accurately calling Globo “Friends and Partners” of Operation Lava Jato in an interview for Agencia Publica.

Accusations that the documents were forged inevitably began to circulate, and that Glenn Greenwald was working “with Putin and the Russians”. Bolsonaro’s 2018 election campaign was conducted with fake news transmitted over WhatsApp, and his government’s first line of defence against the rapid dismantling of its key asset, Justice Minister Sergio Moro, was you guessed it, fake news transmitted over WhatsApp.

It is easy to forget how powerful Lava Jato’s narrative was at its launch. It was extremely difficult to question without facing accusations of defending the corrupt, something that few journalists wanted to be percieved as doing. And 2015/16 was a swamp of pervasive bad takes: “Brazil’s institutions are working” (…right). “If Brazil’s institutions hold it’ll be worth it” (…they didn’t). “Lava Jato MUST be allowed to run its course” (…and Brazil into the ground). What also hasn’t dated well was a notion that the principal motive of 2016 coup was to “stop Lava Jato”. This was a narrative of convenience – it enabled expression of concern about the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff but also allowed a continued public show of faith in Operation Lava Jato. This is in part how it has taken so long for the truth to begin to emerge about what happened during Brazil’s long coup of 2013-2018, and specifically the United States role in it.

The expanding international scandal over Operation Lava Jato is yet more vindication for Brasil Wire’s team of writers who were accurately analysing the conjuncture whilst predicting coming developments and foreshadowing revelations based on then available facts and evidence. This was done in the face of hostility from a clique of corporate operators who once went unchallenged in controlling English language narratives on Brazil, for the benefit of U.S. interests.

Following these leaks they are unlikely to ever be in such a position again.